This burger in a bowl recipe includes a homemade special burger sauce. It’s got all the toppings and flavors of your favorite fast food burger with a healthier spin!

This burger in a bowl includes a homemade special burger sauce. It's got all the toppings and flavors of your favorite burger with a healthier spin!
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I may not frequent the golden arches or even Five Guys much these days but that doesn’t mean I don’t still have some appreciation for just how tasty a fast food burger can be.

These burger bowls were created solely to get my fix of my favorite fast food burger joint in a healthier way.

From the seasoned ground beef to the pickles and even that pale orange “special sauce” or burger sauce, whichever you call it, this burger in a bowl recipe has it all.

ingredients to make burgers in a bowl including ground beef, prepared lettuce greens, a homemade healthier "special sauce", red onions, tomatoes, bacon, pickles and avocado.


I chose to include all the traditional burger toppings along with a few fun additions in these burger bowls.

Lettuce serves as the base and replaces a bun as the first healthier spin to a traditional burger.

Tomatoes, pickles and red onion are the three mainstays of any burger so those are a no-brainer when it comes to toppings.

Even as a self proclaimed raw onion hater, you just can’t omit the red onions! I do slice them thin though as opposed to that one thick ring that sometimes sits upon your burger.

*Pro tip — You can even try your hand at making homemade pickles if you don’t have any jars on hand. Spicy garlic dill pickles would also be delicious.

Bacon is optional but who doesn’t love a bacon burger? Bacon pretty much makes everything it touches taste butter and these burger bowls are no exception to that rule.

Avocado slices are a non-traditional addition but personally, any time I’m given the opportunity to add avocado to my burger, I do.

Ground beef is the last (obvious) ingredient.

I prefer to cook and crumble the beef but if you’d prefer an actual burger patty, you can easily shape these into burgers and grill the perfect burger that way. More details on that below.

This homemade burger sauce is a healthier spin on traditional "special sauce" recipes.


Ok, let’s speak the truth for minute.

The star ingredient to any fast food burger is pretty much always the burger sauce also known as “special sauce” depending which burger establishment you’re at.

It’s a delicious briny, pickle-ish, creamy half mayo/half ketchup, slightly sweet concoction that dreams are made of.

The healthy burger sauce ingredients include:

  • mayonnaise (I use an avocado mayonnaise)
  • ketchup
  • soy sauce
  • relish 
  • maple syrup
  • garlic powder
  • onion powder
  • salt & pepper

It’s the piece de resistance of this burger in a bowl recipe and not only is it delicious, but this version is also a healthier take on the traditionally poor quality fat-laden/suspect ingredient filled sauce.

Drizzled over the top of the burger bowls, the sauce pulls everything together into the exact flavor profile you crave from a fast food burger.

It reminds me of my simple fry sauce from this parsnip fry recipe too.

In fact, those or crispy baked purple sweet potato fries would be delicious healthier fries to serve alongside this burger bowl!


If you’ve ever been to Five Guys, just think of all those topping options they have listed on the menu, the possibilities are almost endless!

  • sautéed mushrooms
  • caramelized onions
  • grated cheese
  • fried egg
  • hot peppers/pickled jalapeños/banana peppers
  • sliced green onions
  • shredded carrots
  • even grilled veggies!


Sure! Not craving beef?

Try ground turkey or chicken instead. Even chicken breasts cuts into cubes would work well.

I would keep the garlic and onion seasoning the same but add some oil to the pan as the chicken or turkey cooks as it tends to be leaner than 80/20 ground beef.

You can even use a burger recipe like my elk burgers or bison burgers in the bowl instead of cooking the ground beef into crumbles.

It’s a great way to repurpose any leftover burgers!

Loaded homemade burger bowls are a fun and healthier way to enjoy all the flavors of your favorite burger.


If you’re looking to eat lower carb, or even just trying to stay away from gluten, you’ve likely encountered the lettuce wrap burger.

It has good intentions. Really.

But again, let’s be real for a second. It’s a hot mess.

If you’ve ever successfully eaten a lettuce wrap burger without dripping everywhere and spilling half the ingredients out of the wrap with every bite, I applaud you.

You may be one of the .05% that’s accomplished such a feat.

It sorta baffles me why the fast food burger places don’t nix that whole idea and just offer burgers in a bowl!

I mean, Chipotle has done it with their salad and burrito bowls. Why can’t McDonald’s and the like catch on with a burger salad?

Burger bowls are where it’s at. It’s all the essential parts of a burger piled high on a bed of crunchy lettuce.

Seasoned ground beef, pickles, tomatoes, red onion, bacon and avocado slices topped with a creamy burger sauce make these burger bowls irresistible!


The great part about eating your burger in a bowl is there’s basically nothing to it. 

The only part that has to “cook” is the beef for the burger element.

Everything else is just prep work of slicing, chopping and mixing.


I prefer to cook the ground beef into crumbles for the burger bowls like shown in the pictures.

This is easily done in a skillet, breaking it up with a spatula as it cooks and then draining any excess liquid before adding the seasoning.

Using 80/20 ground beef and seasoning with garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper – the outcome is a flavorful burger taste.

Crumbles allow for a bit of beef in every bite versus a patty.

It’s also easier to cook ground beef like this than to have to form burger patties and then worry about overcooking them, in my opinion.


If you’d still prefer to have an actual burger on your burger salad, then by all means…

Add the seasonings to the ground beef and mix well with your hands. Form into 4 equal sized patties and cook in a skillet or grill until desired doneness.


Yep, this recipe fits all those dietary niches! 

I don’t set out to create paleo, Whole30 and definitely not keto recipes but it’s worth noting this one is all of those plus naturally gluten-free since there’s no bun involved.

Just make sure to use the noted options in the recipe of tamari or coconut aminos in place of soy sauce for the burger sauce if you need to meet the requirements of paleo/Whole30.

I chose an avocado mayo for the healthier “special sauce” but a traditional good quality mayo (I like ones made with avocado oil instead of canola) also works just fine.

Both options also work within all the dietary parameters too.

Try serving these bowls with some jicama fries to round out the meal too!

Take all the elements from your favorite fast food burger, including the burger sauce and enjoy them atop a salad in these healthy burger bowls.


Asian Turkey Burger Salad
Turkey Skillet Mac and Cheese
Spicy Bacon Chickpea Burgers
Open Faced Burger Eggs Benedict
Greek Brown Rice Bowls
Spicy Beef and Red Pepper Rice Bowl

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4.70 from 23 votes

Burger In A Bowl

Servings: 4 servings
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
Total: 25 minutes
burger in a bowl with healthy burger sauce
This burger in a bowl recipe includes a homemade special burger sauce. It's got all the toppings and flavors of your favorite fast food burger with a healthier spin!


  • 1 large head romaine lettuce, washed and chopped
  • 3/4 – 1 pound ground beef, *see note
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 slices bacon, cooked and chopped (optional)
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • 1/4 cup sliced red onion
  • 1/4 cup pickle slices
  • 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes


  • 1/4 cup avocado mayonnaise, or regular mayo
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce, use tamari or coconut aminos for gluten-free
  • 2 tablespoons relish
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon maple syrup
  • salt and pepper to taste


  • Place a skillet over medium-high heat on the stove top.
  • Once hot, add ground beef and cook until browned, breaking up with a spatula as it cooks.
  • Drain any excess liquid from the pan, return to the stove, add the garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper. Stir to combine and remove from heat. Set aside.
  • Make the burger sauce by adding all the ingredients to a small bowl and stirring together until well combined.
  • Assemble the bowls: start with a base of lettuce, add the ground beef, bacon crumbles, avocado slices, red onion and tomatoes.
  • Drizzle with the prepared burger sauce and season to taste with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Garnish with chopped chives if desired.



*I like to use 80/20 ground beef to mimic the flavor and fat content of a burger at a restaurant or fast food. Use any percentage combination you like or have though. These burger bowls could also be made with ground turkey or chicken if preferred.


Serving: 1SERVINGCalories: 425kcalCarbohydrates: 16gProtein: 28gFat: 29gSaturated Fat: 8gPolyunsaturated Fat: 18gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 83mgSodium: 781mgFiber: 6gSugar: 7g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Salads
Cuisine: American
Founder and Writer at Running to the Kitchen | About

Gina Matsoukas is an AP syndicated writer. She is the founder, photographer and recipe developer of Running to the Kitchen — a food website focused on providing healthy, wholesome recipes using fresh and seasonal ingredients. Her work has been featured in numerous media outlets both digital and print, including MSN, Huffington post, Buzzfeed, Women’s Health and Food Network.

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